Tigers are Hendry County champs after defeating LaBelle

LABELLE — The Clewiston Tigers are the 2019 Hendry County football champions after defeating the LaBelle Cowboys 35-3 in the Hendry County Bowl on Sept. 6. The Tigers regain the title after falling to the Cowboys last year, 24-20.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
LaBelle senior Cutter Cochran carries the ball flanked by fellow senior Paul Morrison in the Hendry County Bowl on Sept. 6.

It looked like the two teams might be in for a tight, back and forth affair similar to last year’s game, but toward the end of the first quarter the Tigers managed to go up two scores against the Cowboys.

Clewiston freshman quarterback Hakeem Holmes connected with wide receiver Chauncy Cobb on a 34-yard pass to give the Tiger offense its first spark of life. Clewiston junior Ahmad Gary followed that play up with a touchdown run to put the Tigers up 7-0. On the ensuing LaBelle drive, Clewiston sophomore Jalen Cole intercepted a Cowboys pass and took it all the way back for a touchdown. Following the two-point conversion by Clewiston junior Oran Singleton, the Tigers now had a 15-0 lead over the Cowboys, and it happened in under a minute.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
The Clewiston defensive line swarms a LaBelle Cowboy. The Tigers defense kept LaBelle out of the endzone on Sept. 6.

After the Clewiston defense forced another punt, the Tigers offense then marched methodically down the field to put another touchdown on the board, but missed the extra point. LaBelle now was down 21-0.

Following the interception it seemed LaBelle changed things up on offense a bit, running more a wildcat, run-first scheme. LaBelle junior Jaylon Gallegos and senior Cutter Cochran won some hard-fought yards on the ground against a dominant Tiger defensive line, but it seemed that any time the Cowboys made progress, a penalty would bring the ball back. This could be because of the short week of practice both teams had due to Hurricane Dorian hovering off the coast. It had to have an effect on the conditioning of the players in the humid September heat. Multiple players on both sides suffered from cramps, especially late in the second half as the game wore on.

Things went from bad to worse for LaBelle in the first half when they lined up to punt with seconds left in the second quarter.

The Tigers special teams blocked the punt and Clewiston senior Andorrian Jones scooped up the ball and walked into the end zone untouched for another touchdown.

The Cowboys headed into the locker room at halftime down 28-0.

Once in the locker room the team must’ve had one of those “come-to-Jesus moments” with the Cowboys coaching staff because LaBelle came out with a little more fire in the second half.

The Cowboys defense was able to enforce their will on the Tigers offense and dominate the line of scrimmage. The Clewiston offensive line had some trouble slowing down the Cowboys early. LaBelle senior Michael Ramos wreaked havoc in the Tiger backfield, often reaching the Clewiston ball carrier right as they took the handoff. Was this the result of the Clewiston offensive line wearing down in the heat with a short week of practice, or the Cowboys defense starting to pin their ears back in the second half? Probably a bit of both. Regardless, it gave the LaBelle home crowd something to cheer for and frustrated the large Clewiston contingent.

Using their wildcat and quick-run offense, the Cowboys were able to get some momentum and move the ball into Clewiston territory in the third quarter. LaBelle lined up for a field goal and put their first points on the board midway through the third quarter.

On LaBelle’s next possession they again were able to march down the field with a succession of quick run plays. Once again, however, the Clewiston defense didn’t break and forced the Cowboys to line up for another field goal.

But the Cowboys needed touchdowns, not field goals if they wanted to win this game, so they attempted a fake to fool the Clewiston special teams.

The Tigers didn’t bite, and Clewiston stuffed the attempt before it had any chance.

In the fourth quarter, LaBelle would get their best field position of the day when a bad Clewiston snap sailed over the punter’s head. The Cowboys recovered the ball deep in Clewiston territory. But right on time that Tiger defense stepped up again.

Clewiston sophomore James Edwards jumped in front of a Cowboy pass, intercepted it and took it 80 yards for another Tiger touchdown. The Clewiston Tigers were now up 35-3 with only a few minutes left.

The Cowboys had another big play up their sleeve before time expired when LaBelle senior Noah Garza caught a 60-yard pass to set up shop at the Tigers goal line. But, once again, a penalty nullified the play.

Last year LaBelle went into Clewiston and delivered a heartbreaking defeat, and this year, the Tigers were able to return the favor.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Clewiston junior Jaivus Chavers bowls over a LaBelle defender.

Next the 1-2 Cowboys host the 1-2 Estero Wildcats on Sept. 13, while Clewiston has a bye week.

Tigers head coach Pete Walker said, “I think fatigue set in a little bit.”

After their bye week the Clewiston Tigers will be on the road again, taking on the Lake Wales Highlanders on Sept. 20.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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